Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It was 50 years ago today ...

Well, not really, but almost.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of rock and roll's most important albums ever, turned 50 years old last week.

The album, recorded in Abbey Road Studios Two in London, was released on May 26, 1967 in the UK and on June 2 in the US.

It's fair to say that Sgt. Pepper's introduced the 1960s to the American white middle class with its clever word play and its introduction of psychedelia into broader pop culture. One of the first, if not the first, albums that could be considered a "concept album," where all of the songs taken together form an integrated whole, Sgt. Pepper's was immediately successful on both sides of the Atlantic, rising to the top of the charts in both the UK and US.

In my own personal lore, Sgt. Pepper's is undoubtedly one of the first albums I ever heard. At the time of its release, I wasn't yet a year old, but my godfather was the noted literary critic and writer Richard Poirier. Poirier decided to write about the Beatles in the fall of 1967 and as a result, according to my mother, we listened to it over and over again.

Taking the Beatles seriously was a counter-cultural act by him. At the time, in the rarified atmosphere of that era's literary snobbery, Poirier smashed shibboleths by viewing the Fab Four's work as consequential in the same way that literature is. As Joe Holley described it in the Washington Post in 2009, 
In "Learning From the Beatles," an essay originally published in Partisan Review in 1967, Dr. Poirier was one of the first commentators to argue that the album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" represented an intermingling of pop and "serious" cultures that deserved close critical attention.
From a man who otherwise contemplated Whitman, Emerson and Frost, Poirier's essay foretold the collapse of the boundary between "high culture" and "low culture" in our popular discourse. While today we may rue that boundary's almost total disappearance, it was nevertheless a brave and appropriate endeavor by him.

Sgt. Pepper's lives on today, its songs sitting easily on the tongues of generations of listeners, now aging, whose conscious minds were opened by the lads from Liverpool.

While the album produced many profound lines that shaped the decades that followed its release, none was quite as impactful as John Lennon's final intonement.

I'd love to turn you on.

And for all you nostalgists of the era, here's a strange but interesting video from that time ...

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Waltham's wealthy in the 19th century

Waltham, Massachusetts is not a place commonly associated with great wealth or privilege, but it wasn't always that way. From the earliest days of the 19th century all the way to its end, Waltham was one of the venues where Bay State grandees located their country seats. Recently, I had the chance to see three of them spanning the full century, and here they are.

Lyman Estate
Built in 1793 for Boston merchant Thomas Lyman, the house served as the summer residence for the Lyman family for over 150 years. Sitting on 400 acres of land, the grounds contain a greenhouse built in 1800 and believed to be the oldest in the United States. The building was designed by Salem architect Samuel McIntire and was used as the location for the Merchant-Ivory film The Europeans, based on the Henry James novel.

Gore Place
Built in 1806 as a summer retreat for Massachusetts lawyer and politician Christopher Gore and his wife Rebecca (nee Payne), the Gores welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette, Daniel Webster and James Monroe as their guests in its halls. Likely designed by French architect Joseph-Guillaume Legrande whom they had met during their trip to Europe in 1801 (there is no definitive proof of this, though the structure bears his design cues), the overall layout was based on sketches that Rebecca herself had made while the family was in London. The Gores lived in the house until 1834, when Rebecca died (Christopher having died in 1827) and without children, they stipulated in their will that it be auctioned off. It was bought by Thomas Lyman.

Designed by H.H. Richardson for Boston philanthropist Robert Treat Paine, the house was built in 1884 with landscaping done by Frederick Law Olmsted. Paine, the great grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a lawyer was well as a social reformer. He married one of Thomas Lyman's granddaughters and the couple decided to construct a summer house away from the city. They were given the land by her father George. When their first attempt was deemed insufficient for their seven children, Paine engaged Richardson on a second try. He had met Richardson while serving as the chair of the building committee of Trinity Church in Copley Square.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Grab Bag: GOP, the party of violence and lies; Tolerant America; Should I get these?!

It's Friday, so here's the Grab Bag ...

Now that Greg Gianforte has won yesterday's special election for Montana's only congressional seat, it is fair to say that Republican politicians in Washington will overlook anything to maintain control of the levers of power. Gianforte famously body-slammed reporter Ben Jacobs of the Guardian on election eve after Jacobs had the temerity to ask about the GOP health care bill. The only rebuke Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) could muster was that Gianforte should apologize. This is all in the context of a national party defending a president who is sinking deeper by the day into the Russian swamp. With Jared Kushner being named as a "person of interest" in the FBI investigation into Russian meddling, a veil of plausible deniability has been pierced, and for the first time, someone actually working in the White House is under investigation. Every reasonable expectation is that this will bring the party down.

Meanwhile, on the American front, there's this (below). It's nice to know that somewhere there is a politician actively courting this man's vote. I dare not look at the ChristianInterviews.com, for fear of what I might find there, but this image gives us a reasonably good idea.

Finally, my only question is, should I get these? You let me know!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Grab Bag: Trump is an 'idiot'; Mazen decides not to run; Bad beer

Since there is such national news saturation, the only real value of a blog is to provide a local perspective.

This is, of course, very hard with Donald Trump in the White House since every six hours there is something head-spinning coming out of Washington.

Well, it's a Friday, so let's do a Grab Bag with a mix of national and local politics and some other randomness thrown in for good measure.

Donald Trump is an 'idiot'

Quinnipiac released a poll earlier this week that produced the headline, "When thinking of Trump, US voters say 'idiot' is the first word that comes to mind." If the American people needed any further confirmation of their preferred description of the president, they need look no further than this photo.

In it, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, right, visit Donald Trump in the Oval Office earlier this week. The White House had barred American press from joining the meeting but had allowed a Russian photographer to participate. The Russians then released the photo to Russian news agencies, leaving the White House staff feeling betrayed and lied to. This prompted former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice to tweet, "No kidding."

If there was ever a graphic display showing the rewards of Russian meddling in the United States elections, this photograph is it. In it, the Russians demonstrate that they now have their simpleton fool to play with, a puppet dancing on their strings. Who owns whom here? The answer is painfully obvious. And btw, Kislyak, in addition to being an ambassador, is also considered a spy by U.S. intelligence services. Donald Trump invited a Russian spy into the Oval Office. He is an idiot indeed.

Nadeem Mazen decides not to run for City Council

In a wild City Council election year with many candidates running, Councillor Nadeem Mazen has announced that he will not seek reelection. Mazen's capacity to shape the debate on the Council was impressive, though from a distance, his policy ideas seemed superficial. Often criticized by his detractors for leaving the impression that he thought he was "the smartest guy in the room," Mazen nevertheless heralded a new kind of politics in Cambridge, tapping into the power of millennials while raising substantial amounts of campaign money from outside Massachusetts.  Often aligned with fellow councillors Dennis Carlone and Jan Devereux, Mazen was sometimes hard to pin down on the most pressing issue in Cambridge today, the creation of more affordable housing, offering solutions that were more popular than they were pragmatic. Nevertheless,  Mazen's willingness to hold himself to his campaign promise of two terms on the Council is refreshing. Where he goes next will be interesting to watch.

This is terrible beer

And in a purely negative note, this beer is terrible. There is no other way to say it, and UFO should be embarrassed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Richard Nixon revisits

Now in this winter of discontent, our most Shakespearean of villains reappears on stage, this time with his substantial intellect and his unappealing affectations intact. Trump is a brash vulgarian compared to this Iago.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Nixon had his 18 minutes, now Trump has his 18 days

Just as Richard Nixon will always be known for the missing 18 minutes on the Watergate tapes, now Donald Trump has his missing 18 days -- the 18 days between the time that acting attorney general Sally Yates told White House counsel Don McGahn that national security adviser Michael Flynn was compromised and the time that Flynn was finally fired by the president.

Whether this story is a steady drumbeat or drip is immaterial. It is the downfall of this president.

Friday, May 5, 2017

SuperCars: Origins, Evolutions ... at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum

The Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts brought out the beauties last night and invited some lucky men and women to gawk at them.

There was a Ferrari F12 tdf and a Porsche 911R and two McLaren 570Ss. There was even a 1948 Willy's Jeep.

And that was just in the parking lot!

Inside, attendees were treated to a Porsche Carrera GT and a black 1955 Mercedes Gull Wing, a silver 722 McLaren-Mercedes SLR and a 1968 Lamborghini Miura along with a Jag XJ 220. There was also an old Stanley Steamer.

The walls were studded with the iconic and very beautiful photographs of Jesse Alexander and delicious food was served.

This was the opening reception for the new show, SuperCars: Origins, Evolutions, which looks at special cars and their meaning.

For more information about the show, click HERE.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

How to live

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play... To himself, he always appears to be doing both. 
-- François-René de Chateaubriand

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Billy Monger

Billy Monger is a cherubic boy who lost both his legs in a crash while racing Formula 4 cars at Donington Park in the U.K. in April. Very sad.